Oh, I’m Sorry — It’s Apparently My Fault

Wed, April 18, 2007


I’ve hesitated to weigh in on the debate about The Feminine Mistake, the latest “mommy guilt” book, but I can hold my tongue no longer.

Even though I haven’t read it myself (yet), I have read several thorough reviews of the book and I think I can safely summarize one of the author’s key points that I have just a TEENSY little problem with — “opting out” is our fault.

Women leaving the workplace to be at home with the kids because of the difficulties balancing professional careers and raising a family and the stuff of life is apparently our own damn fault.

Who knew?!

Leslie Bennetts seems to believe that women would not leave their jobs if we really focused on how that could possibly jeopardize our long-term financial stability. Looks like we’ll only have ourselves to blame if we can’t jump back into the workforce when we’re done raising our children (even if it’s just a couple of years) or when our husbands leave us for the trophy wives.

Don’t get me wrong. It sounds like Bennetts makes some good points about why women should give serious consideration to their own financial independence, and what happens to women financially when families split up after a divorce. But something is wrong with the assumptions of the conversation — the mistaken assumption that women leave their jobs and careers to be the family caregiver because it’s always their free choice. Most of the arguments out there presume that women are choosing to stay home with the rugrats because that’s their new, first choice and happily skip away from the Blackberries, the daytimers and the salaries that support the Manolo addictions.

It’s no choice for the women I’ve talked with about the topic. If it is a choice, it’s a Faustian one.

Many mothers leave their professions because the current male construct of the workplace doesn’t give an inch to promote anyone who doesn’t follow the rules that have been in place since the Cleavers were on the black-and-white TV.

It’s the workplace itself that is forcing women to make the “choice” to “opt out” because the office won’t accommodate the idea of a professional woman being dedicated to a job AND to family at the same time.

We didn’t opt — we were pushed.

If working mothers got the same pat on the back that working dads get if they head out early for the soccer game or a child’s doctor appointment, I can guarantee there would be fewer moms making the “choice” that Bennetts is so agitated about. When the plum assignments and promotion opportunities come our way in our pre-kidlet lives, but dry up after maternity leave, that’s a pretty good sign that our time is better spent elsewhere.

There’s really no need to add to our list of things that makes mothers feel guilty. While Bennetts creates an important discussion about taking responsibility for our own financial welfare, let’s put the guilt where it belongs — on the workplaces that refuse to change, that are still run by our fathers’ generation, the ones who, at least on a subconsious level, hold back the most challenging assignments, mentoring and chances for advancement when we add “mom” to our skill portfolio.

Without those carrots, what’s the upside to the complicated dance called work/life balance?

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8 Responses to “Oh, I’m Sorry — It’s Apparently My Fault”

  1. karrie Says:

    I read through the bulk of this book on recent visit to a favorite bookstore, but couldn’t quite bring myself to buy a copy. My overall impression is that this is yet another polarizing tome seeking to stir the pot and make a lot of money for the author and publisher.

    You nailed it here: once again the wrong questions are being asked in this debate. But hey! It sells books!

    Ok, so her widowed,destitute grandmother compares to educated SAHMs with investments, who are more than likely carrying hefty life insurance policies on their husbands, is the same situation in what make believe world?

    Bennetts does raise some very valid points–everyone should have a PLan B– but her delivery and analysis leave much to be desired.

  2. Paige Says:

    You know, I haven’t read the book either, but if you’re trying to make the point that women should have a PLAN B, why not just make the point without a. putting mistake in the title (that’ll piss people off) and b. taking SAHMs she doesn’t even know to task for their choices when it’s not her place to say.

    These arguments tire me.

    Why not write a book about how SAHMs can cobble together their contingency plans instead?

  3. venessa Says:

    If I ever find a job that won’t COST me money after daycare and other expenses, I would love to go to work. Grrr.

  4. Lawyer Mama Says:

    I’m refusing to buy it. I completely agree that women should ensure their financial futures. Living with your head in the sand is never a good option. But it pisses me off to no end when anyone insists that women bear full responsibility for what happens (ala LH). That just what moms need – a little MORE guilt.

    I completely agree with you that women are pushed out more often than not. If our country and our corporate world were more family friendly, this wouldn’t be such a huge issue.

    I also agree with Paige that it would ne bice to see someone write a book telling moms who have already been pushed out or are on their way, what they can do to stay in touch with the work place or how they can come up with work at home alternatives.

  5. Me Says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with PunditMom. It seems that it’s “choice feminism” when that argument is favorable, and “pushed out” when that argument is favorable.

    We can’t always blame everyone else for our choices, we are free, thinking, sentient human beings who are responsible for their actions and opinions. The choice to have children is a choice — it’s a fulfillment of a desire. As I’ve said before, there is no guarantee anywhere that you can have everything you want — as many children as you want, spaced however you want, AND a supporting workplace in whatever industry you chooise that will tolerance different work schedules, part-time work, frequent emergenices, etc. Some jobs are simply not suited for those kinds of schedules, in my opinion.

    I would like the workplace to change to accomodate more diverse lifestyles, but at the same time, I am not in favor of what seems like constant buck-passing: always blaming someone or something else for the situations women “end up in.” We have to own up to our choices and situations if we are to be taken seriously.

  6. Jaelithe Says:

    Damn straight.

  7. Devra Says:

    Yeah we can all play the “blame game” but really where does that get us? It gets us infighting. Also to me “blame” is passive, while “accountability” is active. Why not take accountabiity where one can and look for it where there should be feet held to the fire? Life has many shades of grey so thus accountability does too. I’ve not read Bennetts’ book, but from what I have read of her own take on things, it does make me concerned that she is holding “us” accountable, as if “she” isn’t a part of this picture at all. We’re all in this together, whether we like it or not. Children grow up and they will be a part of society, so whether or not you are a parent, you were a kid who grew into an adult. It’s not a simple argument as to who has kids and who doesn’t. Ultimately children grow up to be your service providers too. I’m still reeeling in shock that I could have been the teenage mother of my son’s kindergarten teacher. I don’t think that focussing on getting more support of caregiving means we are also participating in “choice feminism”. Isn’t feminism about having choices and increasing choices? At least that is what my feminist mom taught me and what I teach my feminist sons. But we all don’t have the same resources and access, so maybe “choice” isn’t the right term any of us should be using. I dunno. I just wish the dialogue could happen without the fingerpointing which is distracting, and yes, guilt inducing.

  8. CPA Mom Says:

    I’ve been toying with the idea of buying the book – the title seemed to validate my “choice” to work. I really do not have a choice, bills must be paid, but even if I did, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d probably still work. I need my work to be fulfilled. I didn’t know the book did not take into account that in some professions, there is no “Opt-out” for women. Interesting post. Really made me think. As usual.

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